Today in Patriots History
Happy Birthday to Mack Herron, who would have been 73 today
Born July 24, 1948 in Biloxi, Mississippi
Patriot RB/KR/PR 1973-1975; uniform #42
Signed as a free agent (or off waivers from CFL?) on August 9, 1973
Died December 6, 2015 in Chicago at the age of 67
At 5 feet 5 inches, Herron was dwarfed by
teammates such as offensive lineman Leon Gray
Mack Willie 'Mini-Mack' Herron was a shooting star. The 5'5 170 lb Kansas State product was an incredibly exciting athlete. Herron provided a reason for New England sports fans to be enthusiastic about the Patriots, in a time when Pats recent history consisted of the Clive Rush/John Mazur/Phil Bengtson era (or should I say 'error').
1973 was Herron's first with the Pats, and he led the NFL with 41 kickoff returns for 1,092 yards, including one touchdown. The following year Herron became a rock star, shattering Gale Sayers' NFL record with 2,444 all-purpose yards. The Pats created a buzz, jumping out to a 5-0 start. Injuries and lack of depth eventually took their toll, but for the first time in eight years the Patriots did not finish the season with a losing record. Herron and Sam Cunningham joined veterans Jim Plunkett and Randy Vataha as reasons to get tickets to watch the Patriots.
And then boom, just like that - in the blink of an eye, Mack Herron's time with the Patriots was over.
While diabetes was the official cause of his death, Mack Herron's life was a sad story for the final forty years of his life. It has been reported that he was arrested twenty times due to drugs.
March 16, 2013:
Former NFL running back Mack W. Herron, whose power and small stature earned him the nickname “Mini Mack” when he played for the New England Patriots during the 1970s, is accused again of drug possession after being arrested this week on the West Side, authorities said.
Wednesday about 10:30 a.m. Herron was behind the wheel of a tan 2003 Chevrolet Impala when a police officer saw the car stop. . .
Herron was arrested in May of 2011, also for drug charges, authorities said.
Chicago police saw Herron, who was 62 at that time, at the back door of an abandoned building in the 1600 block of South Drake Avenue in the North Lawndale neighborhood about 3 p.m. on May, 6, 2011, according to a police report.
As the officers approached, Herron, whose address at that time was in the 1800 block of South Hamlin Avenue, dropped a tinfoil packet holding 0.20 of a gram of heroin, police said.
Herron has been arrested dozens of times since he left football and has at least seven felony convictions, prosecutors said.
Dec 7, 2015:
The New England Patriots are saddened to learn of the loss of former running back and return specialist Mack Herron, who died yesterday in Chicago at the age of 67.
Herron signed with the Patriots in 1973 after two seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. The 5-foot-5-inch, 175-pound back was affectionately nicknamed "Mini Mack for his diminutive size and became a fan favorite for his electrifying returns and explosive offensive contributions, despite only playing in New England for two-and-a-half seasons (1973-75).
In his first season with the Patriots, he led the NFL in kickoff return yardage (1,092) and broke eight Patriots return records while totaling 1,839 all-purpose yards in 1973, second only to O.J. Simpson that year. In 1974, his legend grew when he finished ahead of Sam Cunningham as the team's leading rusher with 824 yards and seven touchdowns while also leading the team with 38 receptions, including a team-high five receiving touchdowns. He also led the team in kickoff and punt returns. That year, he finished with 2,444 all-purpose yards for the Patriots, which broke Gale Sayers' 1966 NFL single-season all-purpose yardage record of 2,440 yards.
Born on July 24, 1948 in Biloxi, Miss., he grew up on Chicago's West Side and was a football standout at Farragut High School. He played his college ball at Kansas State and had a sensational senior season when he led the Wildcats in rushing and led the Big 8 Conference in receiving. He scored 21 touchdowns as a senior, which ranked second in the nation behind Oklahoma's Heisman Trophy winner, Steve Owens. Drafted in the sixth round of the 1970 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons, Herron opted for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers instead, where he twice led the CFL in all-purpose yardage.
It was footnote, one that got hardly any mention from anybody of note.
There have been several recent deaths of former Boston greats, but this one hurt a little more.
I wondered why. Why did this feel like a punch to the gut?
Then it him me. It was about the time Herron arrived in 1973 that pro football started to matter to me.
I had already been hooked on the Red Sox (see 1967 Impossible Dream) and the Bruins (I remember where I was when they won the Cup in 1970). One of my early recollections of caring about the Patriots was when they hired Chuck Fairbanks before the 1973 season and drafted a pair of superstars in John Hannah and Sam “Bam” Cunningham.
But my favorite player was the 5-foot-5 running back, “Mini” Mack Herron. But what made Herron special wasn’t just his size, but his “all-purpose” yards as a rusher, receiver, punt returner and kick returner. It mattered to me, and only me, that Herron led the league in a somewhat meaningless stat.
Like Danny Woodhead nearly four decades later, Herron was hard to tackle because he was so small and played with his shoulders even lower. Herron and “Sam Bam” were a great duo.
What I realized on Monday, upon hearing about Herron’s passing, was something “kids” under the age of 25 could never understand. The Patriots were bad, sometimes embarrassing, but it didn’t matter. There was something about the hope, probably because under Fairbanks the talent level grew.
Jan 7, 2016:
Chicago native Mack "Mini-Mack" Herron used money he made playing professional football to help buy a house for his mother on the city's West Side in the...
Mack Herron with his sister at their family home in January 2015
Chicago native Mack “Mini-Mack” Herron used money he made playing professional football to help buy a house for his mother on the city’s West Side in the 1970s.
The prospect of losing the home to an alleged reverse mortgage scam may have contributed to his death at age 67 last month, according to relatives.
“He was packing his bags,” said Barbara Herron, younger sister of the former Farragut High School great. “I didn’t know he was packing his things until after he had passed.”
Herron first burst into prominence at Farragut, where he starred in baseball, basketball and track in addition to his gridiron heroics.
He continued to stand out at Hutchinson Junior College and Kansas State University, finishing fourth in the nation in touchdowns in 1969. He played professionally for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL and the New England Patriots, where in 1974 he set a single-season record for all-purpose yardage.
He used some of the money from his football career to help purchase the home in the 1800 block of S. Hamlin Ave.
Herron’s years on the gridiron took a toll on his body, as did his drug use that led to repeated arrests. Barbara Herron said that at the time of his death her brother was diabetic and dealing with memory loss caused by a football-related head injury.
But he was also impacted by the strain of potentially being homeless, she said.
In 2010, Herron’s mother Effie Herron had taken out a reverse mortgage on her home, which had been paid off for years.